Laytonville's "Bear Woman" is boarding up her mountain home and, with great misgivings, leaving behind the black bears she has fed for more than two decades.
"It's just sad," said Lynne Gravier, 76.
Gravier said she started providing food when a mother bear and two cubs fell into her swimming pool about 25 years ago. She never stopped, despite repeated warnings from state game officials.
The bears responded to Gravier's kindness by returning year after year, spending a month or so around her home fattening up before and after long winters in hibernation.
When State Fish and Game officials bent on halting the handouts raided her 40-acre ranch last month, they found 1,000 pounds of corn and four bears, two of which were on the front porch. They said she mixes the corn with dog food and oil.
On Friday, Mendocino County Deputy District Attorney Tim Stoen plans to file a misdemeanor charge of feeding large game animals against Gravier. It's punishable by up to six months in jail, but he will ask only for two years of probation, during which game officials can search her home to ensure she complies.
"We think she's a compassionate woman, but we have to enforce the law," Stoen said.
The investigation was launched after neighbors complained about damage done to their homes by bears. It's illegal to feed bears, for our sake and theirs.
They can become accustomed to it and can get destructive in their quest for a free handout, said Fish and Game Lt. Loren Freeman. That kind of problem behavior has gotten them killed.
Moving away from the place she has called home for 40 years is the only way Gravier can think of to comply with the law.
"I can't control myself," she said.
Gravier has moved into the home her parents built when they first settled in the Laytonville area 60 some years ago, leaving behind 17 cats and some peacocks but bringing her pet rooster, who lives indoors.
She said it breaks her heart to see the hungry bears when she goes back to feed her domestic pets.
"They just stand there and look at me, and I have to turn my back on them," she said.
The relocation was initiated by county health officials who told Gravier she could not live in the home until she makes structural and plumbing repairs and clears out the wall-to-wall garbage and rotting food, they said.
Her eviction may accomplish what several threats of prosecution failed to do.
Six years ago, Fish and Game officials warned Gravier to stop feeding the bears, and five years ago they sought prosecution because she persisted.
Former Mendocino County District Attorney Norm Vroman refused to prosecute, saying it wasn't clear that there was a problem.
Gravier continued to feed the bears, dismaying neighbors who say the animals break lights, tear down fences, decimate gardens and kill livestock.
Game officials again asked Mendocino County authorities to prosecute Gravier. It's illegal to feed wildlife. By persisting, they say, Gravier likely has killed some bears with her kindness.
Bears that get used to being fed by people lose their fear of humans. They can become aggressive and break into homes in search of food. When that happens, permits are issued to kill the offending bears.